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Survey says… Not much

A recent South Carolina Bar survey shows that very few attorneys are willing to say whether they have legal malpractice insurance.

Of the more than 14,000 bar members in the state, only 1,271 responded to the survey. That’s a response rate of 9 percent.

About 74 percent of the respondents, or 951 to be exact, reported that they were insured. The bar noted that 260 respondents had jobs that don’t really require coverage, such as government and in-house positions.

Eric Bland, a Columbia lawyer and member of the bar’s Professional Liability Committee, which conducted the survey, said every lawyer in the state should be required to carry malpractice insurance.

“If you’re not going to mandate that the attorney has malpractice insurance you should at least mandate that the attorney tells the client that he doesn’t have malpractice insurance,” said Bland, who pays a $2,000 annual premium for $2 million in malpractice coverage.

Bland, a partner at Bland Richter, which is among the state’s busiest plaintiffs’ legal malpractice firms, said he has only recovered damages once from an uninsured lawyer during his 17 years of practice.

“People are consciously deciding these days to not carry malpractice insurance,” he said. “You start searching public records to find out what’s in their names and you see that they don’t have any property, that they’ve put stuff in a partnership or in their wife’s name and they’re basically judgment-proof.”

Bland said not requiring lawyers to carry insurance or disclose whether they’re covered is “an absolute disgrace.” He and his law partner, Ronnie Richter, said as much in a letter they sent to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal in 2008. They did not receive a response, according to Bland.

The North Carolina State Bar began posting members’ insurance coverage status on the statewide online lawyer directory in 2004. But the state Supreme Court eliminated the program in 2010

“Upon reflection, it does not appear that the information is sufficiently useful or reliable to justify the cost of its collection and publication,” the court said.

The bar spent $17,000 in 2008 and $9,400 in 2009 to keep track of its members’ insurance coverage status, according to a report from the bar’s membership director, Tammy Jackson.

The money was used to maintain the bar’s lawyer directory and for mailing thousands of letters and postcards to lawyers who paid their membership fees but failed to answer questions about their insurance coverage.

Jackson noted in her report that the state’s lawyers were not required to provide proof of insurance, so the bar had no idea whether they were lying about carrying malpractice coverage.


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